Students Seek Innovative Solutions for Refugees in Nexus Maximus Challenge

For four fast-paced days, students will collaborate in transdisciplinary teams to address specific problems and develop innovative solutions to help refugees and displaced populations.

For four fast-paced days, students will collaborate in transdisciplinary teams to address specific problems and develop innovative solutions to help refugees and displaced populations.

More than 200 students from Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University), Aalto University in Finland, Duoc UC in Chile, City University of New York and Pace University in New York are taking part in the fourth annual Nexus Maximus challenge Sept. 8-11.

For four fast-paced days on the East Falls Campus, students will collaborate in transdisciplinary teams to address specific problems and develop innovative solutions to help refugees and displaced populations. Every day, 34,000 people leave their homes because of violence, famine and to seek better lives for themselves and their families.

“The challenge is severe, but in great challenge comes great opportunity,” D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s vice president of innovation and Steve Blank Innovation Chair, told the students about the “all-too-timely” topic. “Right at this moment, there are millions and millions of people in the world that might benefit from your ideas.”

Nexus Maximus, now in its fourth year and once again sponsored by partner Johnson & Johnson, is the largest Nexus Learning event on campus. It includes students from freshmen to graduate level in more than 30 disciplines, including design, architecturebusiness, midwifery and occupational therapy.

Some areas students may explore include physical and mental health, communication barriers, employment, access to services, transportation, deportation, gaining admission into a protected country, government policies, climate and more.

Nexus Maximus includes students from freshmen to graduate level in more than 30 disciplines.

Nexus Maximus includes students from freshmen to graduate level in more than 30 disciplines.

Jefferson industrial design student Eric Schreiber became interested in Nexus Maximus after a recent conversation with someone who worked to help refugees through the Peace Corps.

“We spoke for hours about her experiences, so this just seemed like an obvious opportunity to feel involved,” he said. “I hope I make some new friends and that we create something that could be valuable.”

Jefferson health sciences student Maggie Mistek is eager for the opportunity to collaborate with students from different programs. “I look forward to using my creativity and compromising with others to solve a common goal and, hopefully, gain some knowledge along the way,” she said.

This year’s Nexus Maximus has the most students from other universities, including computer science student Nicholas Austin, who also attended last year’s Nexus Maximus with two fellow Pace University students. Because of the knowledge he gained and connections made last year, Austin this year recruited his friends to participate, for a total of 10 from the school.

Markus Kirjonen, global partnerships coordinator at Aalto Ventures Program, also brought 10 students from Finland to join this year’s Nexus Maximus challenge.

“I’m a huge fan of this topic, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the creative, surprising solutions,” he said. “You never know what to expect during the final presentations of an event like this—and that’s great. More broadly, I’m looking forward to seeing the various educational events that make up Nexus Maximus.”

While working on their project throughout the weekend, students also will attend workshops led by faculty members and industry experts to inform their work.

“The challenge is severe, but in great challenge comes great opportunity,” said D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s VP of innovation, of the theme.

“The challenge is severe, but in great challenge comes great opportunity,” said D.R. Widder, Jefferson’s VP of innovation, about the theme.

Les Sztandera, Ph.D., professor of computer information systems, will present the session “How Information Systems Can Improve Refugee Well-Being and Transform Humanitarian Action.”

“I believe participants will develop concepts and provide innovative recommendations with regard to access to the internet and mobile phone services that have the potential to empower the refugees, as well as improve the standards of the communities that host them,” Sztandera said.

Jeffrey Klemens, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, will present a workshop on population genetics and the history of human migration.

“I thought it would be useful to provide some background on what it means to be part of a certain population, genetically speaking,” said Klemens, the Nardiello-Flick Term Chair in Biology and Design. “It turns out that the human genome contains a deep historical record of the movements of people and their genes across the globe. Many of these movements, one would imagine, were the movements of people who were displaced from their homes for one reason or another. One of the things that we can learn from taking a genetic approach is that the story in the genes doesn’t always line up with our everyday notions of race or ethnicity.”

Final presentations and judging will start at 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 11, in the Gallagher Athletic Center on the East Falls Campus.

“I can’t wait to see what you come up with,” said Michael Leonard, academic dean of the School of Design and Engineering in Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce, and the David and Lillian Rea Chair of Design and Engineering.

All faculty, staff and students are also invited to attend the final presentations and workshops. See the schedule here.

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